Category: cooking

Pumpkins

By , November 11, 2011 6:07 pm

It’s fall and a perfect time to study pumpkins!

First I read the class Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson and Shmuel Thaler, a lovely book about the life-cycle of a pumpkin.  The photos in this book are gorgeous.  We talked about the circularity of life.

Next I cut open a pumpkin at school and had the children identify the rind, the pulp, the stem, and the seeds.  We then made little Montessori “Parts of the Pumpkin” books.

I explained to the children that we would not waste our pumpkin and we would be eating the pulp and the seeds.  Several of them seemed somewhat aghast at the prospect.

I roasted the seeds in the oven at school so the children could enjoy the lovely smell and hopefully be more encouraged to try them!  Only one child out of a class of twenty-five did not wish to try one, and of all those who tried, only two did not clamor for seconds and thirds.  This was a huge hit!

I took the rest of the pumpkin home and made pumpkin bread with the pulp.  That will be going to school tomorrow and I think all will enjoy it.

In the interest of scientific research we put some of the pulp and a few seeds in a tightly sealed jar.  I labeled it with the date and placed it on the science shelf.  I asked the children to predict what, if anything, would happen to it.  A few predict it will stay exactly the same forever.  A few said it would grow mold.  I told them to inspect it every day to see for themselves.

(Next year we might try this clever version of the decaying pumpkin experiment!)

We also cut the top of a second pumpkin and filled it with dirt.  We watered it and set it in a sunny window to see if the seeds would grow.  I’ll report back on the results.

NOTE (added March 4, 2012):  This turned out wonderfully!  Please see the next post, What We’ve Been Up To for details and a photo of it now!

I dyed some pumpkin seeds red, orange, yellow, and green and set them out in bowls on a tray with some black construction paper.  They have been making pictures and designs with them.

Finally, I put this simple pumpkin color-by-number on the shelf along with a laminated completed one to use as a guide.   It has been popular.

(Oh, and we also painted pumpkins at our school’s annual Fall Festival!!)

 

Sources

Growing in Pre K – Post: Pumpkins

 

Recipes

ROASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS -

Rinse the seeds thoroughly and remove all pulp and strings.  Spread them out and let them dry on paper towels.  Put in the seeds in a bowl and add just a TEENY TINY bit of olive oil to make the seasonings stick (not too much, or they will be greasy).  Toss to coat them in oil, then add seasonings and toss again.  I use Jim Baldridge’s Secret Seasoning (yum!) but you can use anything you like, even just salt.  Some people do cinnamon and sugar, however I like mine savory and have never tried this.  Spread them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Try to spread evenly so very few overlap.  Bake in a 250 degree (Farenheit) oven (this is fairly low heat for those who do not use Farenheit).  Check them after 45 minutes, but they might take an hour to an hour and a half at this temperature to be done.  They are done when crispy seeming and crunch loudly when bitten.  NOTE: They might not brown much, but as long as they crunch, that is OK!

PUMPKIN BREAD -

Ingredients :

  • 1 and 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher (ie. course) salt
  • 1 and 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup plus 1 and 1/2  tablespoons canned, unsweetened pumpkin (or fresh pumpkin pulp that has been boiled, or roasted in water and removed from the skin)
  • 1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Farenheit, a medium setting for those who do not use Farenheit).  Grease and flour an 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan.  Sift together first 5 ingredients then stir in kosher salt.  Combine sugar, oil, and pumpkin in a large bowl.  Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add egg, beating until well-blended.  Gradually add dry ingredients, beating at low speed until blended.  Pour batter into pan.  Bake for about 1 hour and 5 minutes or until loaf is golden and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  (NOTE – I start checking on it early.  It will be dry if you over-bake.)  Let cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove from pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Homemade – Not So Perfect Taffy (Weekly Unplugged Project)

By , June 8, 2009 12:03 pm

The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was homemade.

My children had been asking me recently about saltwater taffy, wanting to know what it was.  I decided we should try to make some homemade taffy and have a taffy pull!

Well, as the title of my post suggests, this was not a tremendous success, but I am not giving up!  I think I know what went wrong and am planning on trying again one of these days, so stay tuned for the post: “Taffy Part 2 – Perfect Taffy!”

I found a basic taffy recipe here, at this wonderful website:  Science of Cooking.  The recipe is under the category, Science of Candy.

The ingredients are sugar, cornstarch, butter, salt, light corn syrup, water, and optionally: flavoring (we used vanilla extract) and food coloring.  The recipe also gives the option of adding glycerin which will make it softer and creamier, but we left that out.

First we mixed together the sugar and cornstarch.

Next we stirred in the corn syrup, water, salt, and butter.

The whole mixture goes on medium heat.  Constant stirring is required until the sugar dissolves, then continue stirring until the mixture boils.  This step takes a while and the children grew a bit impatient, but from previous candy making experience, I know it is important to leave it on medium heat and not “cheat” by raising the temperature of the stove to hurry things along.

Once it boils, add a candy thermometer and stop stirring.

Why must you stop stirring? Here’s part of the science of this process:

“At this point, you have dissolved the crystal structure of the sugar. Stirring or other agitation is one of the many factors that can encourage the fructose and glucose molecules in your syrup to rejoin and form sucrose—crystals of table sugar.”

While the mixture boils, it is important to wash down the sides of the pan with warm water and a pastry brush.  This prevents any crystallization on the side of the pan from falling back into the mixture and becoming a seed crystal which could also cause unwanted recrystallization of the sugar mixture.

OUR ERROR NUMBER 1: On the first attempt we forgot to wash down the sides of the pan which probably contributed to our rock hard result!

The recipe says to allow the mixture to heat to a temperature of 270 degrees Farenheit (the “soft-crack” stage). At this point you will notice that the bubbles are smaller, thicker and closer together. Here is what it looks like:

At this point quickly stir in your flavor and color should you choose to add any, then dump the very hot liquid onto a greased cookie sheet, or marble slab.  I just buttered our granite countertop and that worked nicely.  Warn the children that it is VERY HOT.

Have the children butter their hands (they loved this step), and when it is cool enough to handle, begin the pulling process.  Have the children stretch it between them (warning – DO NOT DO THIS ABOVE A DOG.  Our dog jumped up and bit some off!).

Once it is stretched, then they should fold it in half (like folding a sheet), turn it and stretch again.

Here is where it all began to go wrong for us on our second taffy attempt.  Normally the taffy should become harder and harder to pull, but keep on going until it is “light in color and has a satiny gloss” (about 10 to 20 minutes according to the recipe).  Ours got stiff and nearly rock hard in less than 5 minutes.

RESULT NUMBER 1 – An interesting geological specimen:

RESULT NUMBER 2 – A little softer, but still capable of killing an intruder with a single blow:

Oh well. At least it tasted good (like butterscotch!).

Here is where I’ll stop my narrative since we got no farther.  The recipe continues on to explain how to cut it into pieces and wrap it (we would have needed a power saw).

OUR ERROR NUMBER 2: On the first try, we heated to 270 degrees, but it took me a minute or two to get the food coloring and flavor in there, so it might have gone a bit above (the temperature rises very quickly when it gets that hot).  Result:  Rock hard lump, like a giant hard candy rock!

On the second try, I only heated to 260 degrees and worked much more quickly with the color and flavor.  Result:  Pliable at first (we thought it was going to work), but as the kids pulled, it got harder and harder until it was unworkable and was only slightly softer than the first try – still a hard lump.

My realization:  We live at an elevation of about 8,000 feet above sea level.  I had not taken this into consideration when determining the temperature at which to stop the cooking!  In order to avoid over-cooking, we probably need to heat to only about 240 degrees.

WHAT WE LEARNED: Altitude affects cooking time because water boils at a lower temperature here than it does at sea level (due to lower air pressure up high).  Pasta always takes about 3 minutes longer to cook here than the maximum time given on the box. The candy was boiling earlier (at a lower temperature) so it boiled much longer than it should have by the time it reached 270 degrees.  The molecular change was farther advanced at that temperature than it would have been at sea level, making for harder candy (more like “hard-crack”).  Any other high altitude cooks out there might be interested in this link that I discovered about adjusting candy temperatures for altitude: Candy Making Tips (scroll down to the very last paragraph for the high-altitude conversion).

As I said before, I want to try this again and I think we’ll have better luck.  I’ll be sure to post a photo of our “perfect taffy!”

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Did you do a homemade Unplugged Project this week?  If so, then please put a link to your post in the Mr. Linky below.  You had also better leave one in a comment too, since Mr. Linky has been acting up lately.  If you did not do a homemade project, then please do not link, but read more here about how to join in.  We’d love to have you!

Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:

Slippery

Enjoy!

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Hot – Edible Sugar Science (Weekly Unplugged Project)

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By , August 11, 2008 7:19 pm

Finally, here is my hot post that disappeared into the ether last night. Thanks so much to Julie K in Taiwan, Angi and Nature Mama for having the brilliant idea of emailing me the post from their Google Readers. That saved me at least an hour of rewriting! I was so down on computers this morning, but this evening I am uplifted by the fact that three people I have never met in “real life” can help me out! Thank you!!! Now, on to the post:

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The theme for this week’s Unplugged Project was hot. Finally, we managed to get back on schedule and do it, although we broke away from our usual craft project and went in a more scientific direction.

While away this summer, I found a number of good books in my Dad’s favorite thrift store (he’s a packrat too). One is called Science Experiments You Can Eat by Vicki Cobb (more about the book at the end of this post). While we were trying to come up with hot ideas, my 7 year-old daughter picked up this book and wanted to choose a food-related project. We decided on Caramel Syrup: Sugar Decomposes from the Kitchen Chemistry chapter.

Older children will find this scientifically interesting and fun to do. Younger kids will enjoy the end result!

The goal of the experiment is to teach about chemical compounds and how they can sometimes be broken down into completely different substances. Although I always liked science in school, I am not a chemist so forgive me if I am not 100% perfect in my description.

Since I am a terminal nerd, I didn’t trust the book’s very simple explanation, and actually researched sugar and how it decomposes. I learned that sugar and its breakdown process is rather complicated. (If the mysteries of caramelization keep you awake at night, then read this.)

I tried to keep it 7 year-old simple and explained to my daughter that sugar is actually carbon and water fused together. When you heat sugar, it breaks down into its original carbon and water elements. I showed her the scientific formula for table sugar (sucrose): C12H22O11 . She already new that H2O was water and could see that in the formula. After I explained that C meant carbon, she saw the carbon and water in the formula.

Heating the sugar would cause it to become watery (the release of the water) and dark (the carbon). It would no longer really be sugar.

What we needed – sugar, water, a heavy frying pan:

First my daughter poured half a cup of sugar into the frying pan:

We heated the sugar over medium-high heat and my daughter stirred it:

After about 5 to 10 minutes, the sugar started to melt:

As my daughter continued stirring, the sugar melted further and began to darken and become very watery:

Finally it turned “straw-colored” and we had transformed our sugar into a new substance – caramel. We turned off the heat and slowly added half a cup of water in order to create a runny, edible solution. I did the pouring as the caramel was so hot that it steamed and spattered:

The shock-cooled caramel formed a brittle sort of candy-lump that we just had to taste:

My daughter continued stirring the mixture on low heat for about another ten minutes – until the big caramel chunk dissolved into a solution:

This is what we ended up with: a delicious carbon-water mixture that we ate over ice cream!

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If you haven’t heard of Science Experiments You Can Eat and you have scientifically-inclined children (or you homeschool), you might want to check it out of the library. Ours is an old version (1972), but the new one is supposedly revised and updated. I haven’t seen the new one, but our book has the following chapters about the science of food: A Kitchen Laboratory; Solutions; Suspensions, Colloids, and Emulsions; Carbohydrates and Fats; Proteins; Kitchen Chemistry; Plants We Eat; Microbes; and Enzymes.

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If you did this week’s hot Unplugged Project, please put your link in Mr. Linky below so we can all find you. If you didn’t, please read how to join in, and consider doing next week’s project.

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Next week’s Unplugged Project theme will be:

Trees

Have fun!

Boney Witch Hands!

By , October 30, 2007 4:37 pm

A good friend of mine just brought my children a whole bag full of these “Witch Hands” treats that she found at a Halloween bake sale. I thought this idea was SO clever and easy (not to mention funny!) that I had to share it!

The “hands” are just plastic food service gloves filled with popcorn “bones” and candy corn “fingernails.” Drop a candy corn into each finger tip, fill glove with popcorn, and tie the wrist closed with black yarn. Too cool!

Kids Cook Idea – Moroccan Mint Tea

By , June 30, 2007 9:43 am

When I think of the word sweet I first think of my children. But since they are only sweet some of the time, my next thought is of something that is always sweet: Moroccan Mint Tea.

If you have never had it, I can tell you that it is very minty and so sweet as to be almost syrupy. Yum! It is fun to make with kids, especially if they grow the mint themselves (my 5 year-old son grew this), or at least harvest it from the garden themselves.

It is traditionally served in a pretty, colorfully painted glass and is always offered to guests as a symbol of welcome.

Here is my rather more eclectic version made in a Japanese cast iron teapot with mint from my Arizona garden and served in a Swedish Ikea glass. But the tea still tasted very good, and very sweet!

Recipe (I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but it tastes pretty much like I remember it):

2 tsp. green tea leaves

1 bunch spearmint leaves
4 – 6 tsp sugar (I use 6)

Place tea leaves in pot. Warm teapot by quickly rinsing tea with some boiling water then drain off water right away (use strainer to catch tea and return to pot if no strainer in pot). Add mint leaves to the tea in pot. Pour in enough boiling water for two small glasses. Add sugar to taste. It should be very sweet. Pour into glass, return to pot and repeat a couple of times. Drink hot.

The mint in the garden:

 

The ingredients:

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